A chat with Leah Fay on all things July Talk and the mistreatment of female musicians

Words by Laura Whitters

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Within the music industry today, it is obvious that sexism and misogyny are very much still issues many female musicians have to deal with. Although steps have been taken to improve the issue, it is still a prominent problem and one that must be effectively tackled in order for women to feel safe within their industry.

Leah Fay is the singer of Canadian band, July Talk, who supported Catfish and the Bottlemen on their recent UK tour. The band also released a new album, entitled ‘Touch’ in September. I interviewed Leah, getting her opinions on current issues and what July Talk have planned for the new year.

You’ve done quite a lot of touring this year, especially towards the end, how’s that been for you and the band as a whole?

We love the experience of touring and feel so lucky that this is our life. There are great days and harder ones just like any job but we don’t ever take it for granted. We were on the road for 4 months straight so towards the end it all started to kind of blur together but all in all it was great. It felt really amazing to be touring with a new record after a bit of a break from the road.

What’s your greatest achievement of the year?

Putting out our sophomore album “Touch” in September brought on a lot of intense feelings for me because suddenly the messages of our songs and videos seemed to matter more. I think there is a certain amount of responsibility that comes along with having people like your art and wanting to hear what you have to say. As people began to hear it and it was finally a real, concrete thing, I became so worried about every single decision we’d made along the way in case they were all the wrong ones.

The more people congratulated us and the more attention the album got, the deeper I spiralled into the kind of depression where you’re inconsolably sad and also guilty and full of self-loathing for being sad.

The experience of coping with that steaming shit-pile of complicated emotion while being on tour taught me a lot. We’re extremely privileged to be in our positions and to do what we do, but there’s no handbook that tells you how to be a sensitive human being who plays 6 or 7 shows a week with no breaks and no sleep for 4 months straight. I had to get over myself and ask for help. I’m still learning about it all but I’d have to say surviving was my greatest achievement of 2016. That sounds really heavy. I probably should’ve just said “Playing the MuchMusic video awards, that was great!” haha.

What plans have you got as a band looking into the new year?

We start the next leg of our tour in late January. We’re playing across the U.S. until mid-February and then heading to Europe, the U.K. and some places in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia that we’ve never been before. My mom’s parents came to Canada as refugees from Poland after WWII and never went back so I’m particularly excited to play in Warsaw. Plans are in motion for a new video and we’ve got some time booked off in the spring for writing before summer festival season starts.

Recently, a video emerged of an audience member making inappropriate comments aimed at you. This is horrible to see but I admired how you handled the situation. What is it that you think has made this a prominent issue within the music industry?

I think it’s a product of the music industry being comfortable functioning as a male-dominated boys club that tends to alienate anyone who isn’t the “right mix” of white, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered and male. I think that can be said of most entertainment industries. My guess is that it’s been happening since the consumption of popular music became a thing but now there are a substantial amount of people who realise that it’s damaging and dangerous to only cater to the needs (and rights) of one specific type of human. I think more people are now saying “fuck this” when they aren’t happy with what the music industry throws at them and that social media has made it possible to instantly express that upset on a large scale. It’s always been around and it sucks that it exists, but hopefully the more people talk about it, the more likely it is to change.

What advice would you provide for other artists, (male or female) who face sexualisation and inappropriate behaviour within their work?

Speak up and speak out if you are able to. It can be really hard to know what to say in the exact moment and really scary to as well. I am very lucky to work with people who respect me and who value my opinion. I am not in danger of being vilified by my team or losing my job if I outwardly express my anger about a situation and that is a privilege I don’t take for granted. If you can, work with people that you trust and whose values align with yours. Be clear and adamant about where you stand and demand equality for you and everyone around you. You’ll inspire others to create positive change just by speaking your mind.

If you’re currently stuck in a shitty situation that you can’t get out of, make sure you surround yourself with allies and likeminded friends (outside of work) that you can air your grievances with and ask for advice from. They can help you figure out your next moves if you need to change your environment or team. It takes practice and processing to be able to stand up for yourself so it’s normal to not want to say anything at all – but it is so important that you do.

What action do you think the music industry can take as a whole to try and tackle this issue?

The act of objectifying a woman is the act of attempting to take her power away and the music industry has definitely helped to normalise it. I think change starts with conversation and empathy. We have to be okay with not knowing everything and okay with learning from others. That takes real listening. We all live with different privileges so there is no way that any one person can understand what it’s like to face all the different types of adversity that exist unless we listen and talk about them and find a solution together.

It takes a lot of work and discomfort because people don’t like being wrong but it’s imperative work. Other than that, I think it’s really important that the boys club mentality (of solely giving opportunity and power to people who are like you) comes to an end – particularly way up on the top floors of music industry power. There is so much incredible music being written right now.

Music I believe has the power to change the world, but if the tastemakers are (no offence to them) the same close-minded 60 year old white guys who have been “taste making” since the 1980’s it’s probably time for them to lower their voices and move over, in order to make space for something we haven’t heard a million times before. The idea that “sex sells” is only true because it’s often the only thing being offered. If our industry can let go of this boring notion that women need to be branded and commodified in order to be successful maybe we can actually just let them speak their minds without staring at their bodies for once. Unfortunately, until equality is the norm – I think shitty people are likely to keep yelling “show us your tits” at front-women from the back of the bar.

So, do all you can to challenge these unfortunate norms of mistreatment and help the music industry be what it should be: equal, safe and accepting.

Make sure you check out Girls Against (who July Talk support) which is a great movement fighting sexual harassment at gigs.

Interview by Laura Whitters, you can follow Laura on twitter here

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